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5:33 AM on 12.31.2013

FoolproofAdam’s Five Favourite (and Five Least Favourite) Gaming Moments of 2013

Just before the year ends, I thought I would look back and pick out my favourite gaming moments from the last 12 months.  I haven’t been able to play all the biggest releases this year, so I’m just going to be including games that I’ve played.  I’m not including games that I’ve completed more than once however (I did replay almost all the Metal Gear’s this year, and about five Zelda’s), simply because the reason I’m replayed them in the first place is because they have plenty of amazing moments.

Starting with the worst moments, and in no particular order, the list!  Please be aware that whilst there are no major plot twists spoiled, I do discuss several moments from in the middle of games, so if you want absolutely no spoilers, then it’s probably best to skip to the next entry.

Worst Moments

Grand Theft Auto V – The Torture Scene

If in earlier Grand Theft Auto’s, Rockstar was standing by your shoulder and constantly whispering, “we don’t trust the Government”, then the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V was Rockstar smashing us over the head with a sledgehammer whilst yelling, “WE DON’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT!” 

Well for starters - WE KNOW YOU DON’T ROCKSTAR, FOR FUCKS SAKE!  The scene itself seems it was added just for controversy, it’s almost complete superfluous (especially as an actual gameplay moment) and it just wasn’t very fun to play at all.

Tomb Raider – The Plane Crash

Tomb Raider is a perfectly fine game, but it seems to think that you’ll get bored if there isn’t an enemy to kill every two minutes, or Lara going five minutes without something on the island trying to or succeeding in horribly injuring her.  It’s like the universe hates her and it actually got to the point where I was actually laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.  

Nothing sums this feeling up like the plane crash.  Lara has just climbed to the top of the radio tower to signal the rescue plane, when the rescue plane gets hit by lightning and starts to crash.  And no, it doesn’t crash off in the distance, it homes right in on Lara’s face for some reason.  It was a hilarious and terribly stupid moment.

Dead Island – The City

Dead Island started out interesting enough.  You’re stranded on a holiday resort island with your buddies and you have to scrounge for weapons and supplies to complete some fairly straightforward missions.  What was interesting about it was the setting, and the moment you leave the vibrant and colourful resort to head into the town, you realise just how standard and in some cases, broken, the game actually is.  We made it to the end, but not before going through every standard zombie game location first; prison, sewers, lab, all looking dull and boring and exactly the opposite of the resort.  Way to hook us in there, Dead Island.

Resident Evil 6 – Ubistvo

Resident Evil 6 is a terrible game, but the worst moments all feature one boss, Ubistvo.  Ubistvo is a chainsaw wielding boss, and you fight him not once, not twice, but NINE times.  You “kill” it five different ways, and only one sticks.  It would have been fine if you fought him once, perhaps twice, in any of the locations you find him, but nine times is just lazy game design.  Oh wait, I forgot we were talking about Resident Evil 6 for a moment there.

Assassin’s Creed 3 – Being Utterly Incompetent as an Assassin

It would be quite easy to write ‘Connor’ for this entry, and that would sum up the entire game.  He’s quite stupid, arrogant, impossible to like, and terrible at assassin-ing.  The moment that exemplifies this the most is during a speech being given by George Washington.  Master Assassin Connor Kenway, is sat SEVERAL FEET in front of his lifelong enemy Charles Lee, and he doesn’t even notice until Lee points it out to him.  Good work there genius, the Assassin Order is in great hands with you.

Best Moments

Dead Space 3 – The Last Co-op Mission

Dead Space 3 is a poor horror game, I won’t deny that, but it is a really fun co-op third person shooter.  One moment that truly stands out for me is towards the end, and it hinges on one thing; the players can’t see that same thing as each other, because Carver is hallucinating.  I truly think that this is a mechanic that should be explored in other, much better games, as there is nothing more disorienting and terrifying than the reactions of your co-op partner seeing something that you can’t.  “Can you see the toy soldier?” he yelled, “How about all the presents and the sign saying Daddy hates me?”  “There are pictures of my dead wife and child on the walls!!”  You get the idea.

Resident Evil 6 – The Maze

Resident Evil 6 is a terrible game, but it has some truly standout moments that I thoroughly enjoyed.  The bit when you sneak through the cave around Urtanask, the invisible snake (I am not making this up), fighting against HAOS, but my favourite moment is the maze.  

Towards the end of Chris and Piers campaign, you need to find three keys to escape from one section of an aircraft carrier.  However, the three keys are somewhere in a winding series of dark corridors, made even more difficult to navigate by the presence of Rasklapanje.  Rasklapanje are a regenerating enemy that can appear out of grating on the floor at any moment, and are very difficult to kill.  You are first introduced to this enemy as it eats the face off a scientist and creates another one of itself from the corpse.  So yeah, tensions are a bit high trying to find those keys.  Resident Evil may not necessarily be able to do horror any more, but they’ve certainly nailed ‘panic’.  

Dishonored – Not Killing the Lord Regent

In Dishonored, you are seeking revenge against the people who framed you for the murder of the Queen you were meant to be guarding.  You can choose how you want to do this however.  Do you simply kill everyone, or do you figure out more appropriate punishments?  I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself, so I played it by ear.  I’d decided to kill the Lord Regent, but after sneaking into his bedroom I changed my mind.  After all, this guy was responsible for everything that had happened to me and killing him would be too easy.  Looking around a bit, I discovered you could expose his entire plan by playing a certain tape over all of the loudspeakers in the city.  Nothing was more pleasing than watching him being found out and getting his just desserts.

Bioshock: Infinite – The Mark

There are a lot of excellent moments in Bioshock: Infinite; the ending, the Boys of Silence, returning to Rapture, Songbird.  I particularly loved the arrival in Columbia, especially from the isolation of knowing you didn’t belong there, and you were about to rip the city apart by stealing ‘the lamb’.  But the one thing that stuck out for me, leaving me both puzzled and with the feeling that shit was about to go down was the moment when you find the ‘You Shall Know the False Shepherd by his Mark’ sign, and Booker holds up his hand to show you that he’s branded with the same initials.  Not only does it feel like everyone in Columbia is about to turn around and start trying to attack you, but there’s the dread that they knew you were coming, so what else do they know?

Grand Theft Auto V – Miniguns

In Grand Theft Auto V, you pull off a series of increasingly outrages heists (maybe not as many as I would have liked) to get money for various causes.  My favourite of these missions is when you rob a small town bank, also known to be where all the corrupt police officers keep their ill gotten gains.  Trevor, Michael and Franklin only have exit strategy; fight their way out against an entire police force.  When the police arrive, Trevor and Michael emerge from the bank, wearing full body armour stolen from the military, and a Gatling gun.  What follows is a ridiculous shoot out as the Gatling gun tears through cars, crashes helicopters, and kills a lot of police officers.  Who’d want to be a cop in Grand Theft Auto anyway?   read

3:22 PM on 12.21.2013

Flawless Victory

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about my thoughts after finishing the Last of Us.  In that post, I said that I thought it was a flawed masterpiece, and one day I would come back and detail the things that I didn’t like or didn’t think worked about it.  Well I’ve changed my mind and I’m not going to do that.  I still stick by my original opinion, it does have flaws, but I don’t need to list them anymore.  The reason?

Today I’ve been playing Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.

Shattered Dimensions is the first Spider-Man game developed by Beenox (they previously worked on PC ports for previous Spider-Man games) and was released in 2010.  In it, four Spider-Men from different realities work together to collect pieces of a powerful artefact to save the world(s).   It’s the first Spider-Man game that I’ve played since 2005’s Ultimate Spider-Man, my absolute favourite being Spider-Man 2 on the PS2, simply because it gave me the total freedom to explore a realistic (for the time) New York.  Swinging around that city at ridiculously high speeds and heights truly felt like you actually were Spider-Man.  I loved it.

This is what today's games are going to look like in 8 years.

So why did this influence my decision to not criticise the Last of Us?  It’s pretty straightforward really; there is nothing wrong with Shattered Dimensions.  The combat system works really well, though not as well as Batman: Arkham Asylum/City.  The controls for navigating the environment work, perhaps better than some of the Assassin’s Creed games.  The plot of the game is nothing special, and it’s probably about the same level as any of the Mario games.  It could do with having a few more lines of dialogue recorded, and the levels all follow the same pattern of “boss gains new powers, Spider-Man defeats mooks, Spider-Man defeats boss”, but all the bosses have different kinds of mooks with different strengths and weaknesses.  The bosses all have different powers and are generally interesting to fight, so all in all, there is nothing really wrong with this game.

However, Shattered Dimensions could easily have been released in 2005, and it would have been a well received but fairly standard game.  Comparing it to the Last of Us is like comparing a run of the mill action movie to Citizen Kane (if you don’t at least appreciate why Citizen Kane is brilliant, then I bear you no ill while, but we can never be friends).  The Last of Us has subtlety and nuance, and themes!  Shattered Dimensions has everyone’s favourite Spider-Man; Neil Patrick Harris!

Have you met... the three other versions of me from alternate universes?

Shattered Dimensions is not a bad game; in fact it’s really fun for what it is, but it’s out of date and things have improved a lot since then.  I have no problem going back to play old games, but I don’t think that I’ve ever noticed such a disparity in quality before.  Replaying Ico or Metal Gear Solid 3 or Majora’s Mask, and comparing them to a game like Shattered Dimensions, it’s clear which games were miles ahead of their time, and it’s clear now that the benchmark even for average games is a lot higher nowadays.

And this is probably why that I nitpicked flaws in the Last of Us, and why others nitpick flaws in other games such as Bioshock Infinite, Batman: Arkham Asylum or Grand Theft Auto V, when instead we should be praising what’s so great about them.  Bioshock Infinite may be considered excessively violent, but it took us to an impossible to imagine world and told an extraordinary story.  Arkham Asylum may have had terrible boss fights, but it is the closest that a game is ever going to get to making you feel like Batman.  Grand Theft Auto V may have unlikeable characters, but it is an enormous technical achievement.

And the Last of Us may have a few problems, but I still think it’s a marvellous game, and I would rather have games that improve gaming as a whole, with a few flaws, than be stuck in 2005 forever.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to playing Spider-Man, because I’ve run out of adjectives for today.   read

5:36 AM on 12.20.2013

All About Ellie - What If?

I’m going to be honest with you; occasionally, I look ahead on Wikipedia and spoil the plot for myself.  I don’t do it very often, but I have done it in the past.  I have a couple of reasons for doing this.  

Firstly, I like to make sure that something in the game that is a mystery is actually solved at the end.  For example, in Hotline Miami, I really wanted to know if there was a reason for all the mindless killing and I was worried it was going to turn out to be all a dream or something.  I looked ahead and the ending was appropriate for the game, so I finished it in my own time without having to rush to the end to ‘solve the mystery’.

Another reason is if I’m not having fun with a game, and I want to make sure that the ending is worth the effort; this is what I did with the Last of Us.  This turned out to be a very good thing to have done.


From Wikipedia –

“Joel awakens in the hospital and is greeted by Marlene. She informs him that Ellie is being prepped for surgery: to create a vaccine for the infection, the Fireflies have to remove a Cordyceps sample from Ellie's brain, killing her in the process. Joel escapes and battles his way to the surgery room, from where he carries an unconscious Ellie to the basement parking garage. There he confronts and kills Marlene to prevent the Fireflies from pursuing them. On the drive out of the city, Ellie finally awakens, and Joel lies to her about the events, telling her that the Fireflies had tried and failed to produce a cure with other immune candidates and had given up trying. The pair arrive on the outskirts of Tommy's settlement. Ellie expresses her survivor's guilt and asks Joel to swear that his story about the Fireflies is true, which he does.”

After reading this entry, I realised that the ending to the Last of Us was awful, casting the Fireflies as the bad guys, and Joel as the typical hero who saves the girl in the end because she deserves to live.  A similar thing happened in Prince of Persia (2009) and I didn’t like it then either, mainly because both games wipe away an entire games worth of progress, and ultimately, both doom the world.

Finding out the ending was awful didn’t make me want to stop playing.  It made me want to play the game more.  I wanted to enjoy every moment, explore every area and generally just take my time with it, with no pressure to get to the end and ‘solve the mystery’.  The game is very well made, and there are a lot of excellent games that fall at the last hurdle because they can’t think of an appropriate boss fight or for whatever reason but the journey to get to that ending is amazing.

*cough, cough*

Actually getting to the end of the game made me realise that Wikipedia got it wrong.  It left out the fact that Joel doesn’t save Ellie because she deserves to be saved, he saves her for his own selfish reasons - he doesn’t want to lose his daughter again.  It leaves out the fact that the Fireflies are the good guys, and have weighed up all the options and decided that the right thing to do is to sacrifice Ellie so thousands (millions?) of children just like Ellie don’t have to live through the nightmare that she has.  It leaves out the fact that the game makes you murder the surgeon, and makes you watch as you kill Marlene in cold blood.

It leaves out the fact that Joel is the bad guy after all, most likely a sociopath, and he doesn’t give a fuck about saving the world.

If not for Wikipedia, I wouldn’t have played the game to the end.  If I hadn’t played to the end at a slower place, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.  The game is excellent and I loved it.  It’s a bit of a flawed masterpiece (a lot like Bioshock Infinite), but what it does well, it does amazingly well.  I don’t want to criticise the technical flaws in the game that stop it from being perfect  today, I might in the future, I just want to focus on how it could have been even better, or if not better, then just different.

After playing through the stand out sections when you control Ellie, I was left wondering, why don’t you play as Ellie more?

The bits as Ellie were more challenging (aside from the insta-stab, unbreaka-knife), were more scary (a 14 year old girl against a town full of FREAKING CANNIBALS) and I would say more interesting.  The bit in the diner with David took me right back to the boss fight in Metal Gear Solid against Vulcan Raven, except this time you weren’t a fully armed secret agent.  You were an unarmed teenage girl.

So what if you played the whole game as Ellie?

For the first third of the game she doesn’t even have a gun!  Imagine trying to avoid the bandits and infected with just that knife!  When Ellie gets lifted by Joel onto boxes or walls or over fences, or when Joel goes underwater, she’s totally alone, and with no way for Joel to reach her.  Imagine doing all those environmental puzzles unarmed whilst having to avoid enemies?  With Joel totally unable to help you.

Instead of a tutorial teaching you things that Joel already knows, the tutorial could be Joel teaching Ellie how to shoot and how to hunt, over the course of the game.  This way you get to experience Ellie gradually getting more skilful over the course of the game, up until the point when she can almost single-handedly defeat a bloater in the Winter section.

I’m not saying that Joel as an NPC should do all the fighting though.  Ellie can clearly hold her own, and initially she would be able to outsmart her enemies by using the environment, or by just being really sneaky.  Maybe she can’t even kill enemies until after the scene in the hotel where she saves Joel’s life by killing the bandit?  Being unable to kill enemies – is that survival horror enough for you?

You’ll also get to see Joel through Ellie’s eyes; starting out as someone she doesn’t trust, getting to know him until he practically is her father, but always aware that he is constantly brutally murdering people around you, maybe even people that don’t deserve it.

And in the final cutscene, waking up in the car with Joel telling her that she couldn’t help after all, and you as Ellie, not quite believing him.  Perhaps even a final post-credits scene playing as Joel as he ‘saves’  Ellie from the Fireflies, and watching as he kills Marlene, and the ‘OH FUCK’ moment as you realise that you’ve left Ellie with a man brutal enough that even cannibals run away from him.

I’m not saying that this idea is better than the game, but I thought about it a lot during the parts when you play as Ellie.  There aren’t many games that put you in the role of someone like her, and it was quite refreshing that it did it at all.

Well done, Naughty Dog.   read

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